Early Childhood Seen Through My Mother’s Letters
From My Mother’s Letters from the early 1950’s.
I know my mother loved to take care of us and always seemed to look back with great joy in the first years of my twin brother’s and my lives. She used to tell us stories about things that happened during that time. Her letters to her parents who lived about two hours’ train travel away, give me a more realistic picture of how it was when in the situation. Background, My parents, lived in a small flat with a kitchen, a small bathroom a bedroom and a living room in an area in Copenhagen just as many other families at that time.
A situation from January 1952:
A new baby arrived in the one-room flat number 6 beside ours. We hear his tiny voice, at the same time somewhere toilets flush, a man hammers spikes in a wall and Ole, a boy, upstairs reads aloud his schoolwork. Our own two are just now quiet. Some evenings they are making a lot of noise and tickle each other in their bed until 10 PM.
No wonder that my parents wanted to get away from the small flat and out in the countryside. They bought a tiny summer house in a suburb of Copenhagen and that spring my father, who had long workdays went there on his scooter to prepare the cottage and the garden. In March the same year, my mother writes that she can’t manage to travel to visit her parents. Having learned to walk, we were all over the place. One night she had an accident and writes about it to her parents when she had somewhat recovered the next week.
Hoping to sleep better, I had been careless to take the upper bunk bed. At 4.30 AM, Maria woke me up as and I wanting to turn her around, as I usually do, I forgot where I was and made a jump out in the air, soon after hitting the floor. Please don’t worry too much but I admit that I have never hurt my butt that much and everything inside of me seemed to turn around when it happened. Aage got hold of the night doctor who claimed that my situation wasn’t too serious.
Already when we were tiny, our mother vividly told us this story. It was like we had seen it all. She continues in her letter describing how the next day, our father helped her, then a neighbour and someone from the municipality took turns and supported for a few days.
As usual Aage is working in our garden today. A young man from his work place helped him. The small room where the twins will sleep is soon ready.
Potatoes are laid in the ground and different vegetables are sown. I have got a lot of nice flowers from there and today Aage had with him a small branch of a blossoming cherry tree. I went to the nearest park and the children stumbled around on the grass. Torben wanted to stay on the blanket but Maria was every where. She ran along as a drunken man and laughed. The first thing she found was a piece of dog waste that she immediately “tasted”. It was all dry though.
During that spring our mother is alone with us a lot. In his spare time, our father prepares the summerhouse for us to be able to stay in the summer. Once they moved to the cottage, they had to be there the whole summer even on rainy days in just one small room. It would be too complicated to transport everything back and forth between the summerhouse and the flat.
A lot of fruit and berries were grown there and prepared or conserved for later. I will never know how our mother managed that in a place with a primus stove and no refrigerator. At the time, it was a tremendous job to wash clothes and cloth diapers.
Going to the grocery stores was done quickly by bicycle while we slept or our mother walked with us in the pram. I vaguely remember having run away down the street looking for our mother after I woke up and somehow got out. Fortunately, our neighbour caught us before I had gone too far.
At the time, harnesses in prams and beds were used for keeping babies from falling out. The same old neighbour loved to tell us that my brother once cried from the pram. Coming closer to us, he heard me saying: “The child is crying!” my brother was hanging on the outside of the pram in his harness. I am sure that our mother was washing clothes in the cellar which made it difficult for her to hear us. It was a year later in 1954 when the villa was built on the same ground.
In spring 1953, our mother wrote about arriving home to the flat after a visit to her parents in the province town Holbaek. She thanks them for helping with all the luggage and for all the help she received regarding the washing of clothes and looking after the children. She apologised for the chaotic departure, but the following train trip went smoothly. At home, when we were put to bed, we suddenly realised that we were no longer with our grandparents. We cried in despair for a long time calling out the grandparents’ names in our own pronunciation. When we were about two years old the grind in the door between the bedroom and the corridor was removed, and our mother felt it was like having a pair of puppies jumping around everywhere. I am sure we were never allowed into the living room though. The furniture was kept with great care and never meant as a playground.
June 1953 she wrote from the summer house:
I have a Pound Cake on the primus and my obligations for today are nearly over. I only have left making the evening tea. It’s one of those lovely evenings with a few white cirrus clouds and blue sky. Thank you so much for the parcel. It arrived at a time where I needed encouragement. The children had been “tearing the house apart” as the rain had been pouring down the whole morning. At once we had an orange, and they calmed down immediately. We loved the apples, and the socks are much appreciated as the twins get dirty all the time.
After the war all resources were scarce, and families had to manage with a lot less than today. As I remember her and through her letters, she shows character on how she often fought alone without complaining.